European Architectural History Network Fifth Annual Conference
The comprador classes of the 19th- and early 20th-centuries were critical agents of global capitalism. As “middle men” in the colonial enterprise, they enabled the development of imperial trade networks, negotiated the supply of labor that extracted profit from the local landscape, established new patterns of consumption and taste, and facilitated cultural as well as economic exchanges that were critical to the growth of Asian cities. In diverse treaty ports and colonial entrepôts like Batavia, Tianjin, Calcutta, and Hong Kong, compradors drew on a diverse vocabulary of intra- and trans-regional architectural forms, labor, materials, and construction techniques to build homes, offices, godowns, factories, and infrastructural networks that were legible to both European corporations and local populations. The diplomat and entrepreneur Cheong Fatt-tze, for example, deployed ironworks from the Scottish Macfarlanes factory as well as Teochew ceramic ornamentation from the southern China coast to articulate a mansion in British-colonial Penang that could be identified as the home of both a mandarin official and a modern capitalist. His neighbor, Khaw Sim Bee (Phraya Ratsadanupradit Mahitsaraphakdi to the Siamese crown), meanwhile, built nearby Asdang House in a neo-Palladian idiom that marked him as a member of a cosmopolitan class that circulated freely across national and imperial borders. The travelling, sojourning perspective of the comprador allows historians to critically examine the fractured, multi-scaled geographies at play across global networks as well as what Raymond Williams has described as “the metropolitan interpretation of its own processes as universals.” This panel invites papers that examine the role of comprador patrons and architects as active participants in the production of the global modern built environment in the 19th and 20th centuries. The panel aims to create an understanding of treaty ports, colonial cities, and free trade zones not only as sites of local and foreign interactions but as an incubators of new ideas about architecture in a global capitalist economy.
Papers should identify the ways that compradors actively shaped a conversation between formative iterations of European and Asian architecture as translators of regional, national, and universal idioms and approaches to architectural and urban space. Some questions that papers might explore are: Did comprador architecture preserve local “traditions” or accelerate the development of modern approaches to building? How did comprador tastes shape the circulation of regional idioms? How did comprador agents cultivate or weaken building expertise? How did comprador patronage support the growth of the architectural profession? How did comprador building projects intervene on the growth of new cities? How were compradors able to translate across diverse social circumstances, building communities, and cultural tastes? How did comprador tastes appeal to both regionalist and nationalist tendencies?